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How activists are navigating the US immigration system

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Evgenia Parajanian/iStockBy MARWA MOUAKI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) – For years, thousands of immigrant parents and children have been separated at the border between the United States and Mexico. Most recently, news broke out revealing  the parents of more than 500 children separated at the border cannot be found.

Justice in Motion is a nonprofit which works to reunite parents with their children after they’re separated at the border.

“When people cross borders, they often leave their rights behind,” says Cathleen Caron, the founder and executive director of Justice in Motion.

With a network of over 44 human rights organizations and individual human rights lawyers in Mexico and Central America, Cathleen says Justice in Motion works to ensure that those crossing borders have access to justice. Although news broke of the missing parents recently, Justice in Motion has been searching door to door for parents separated from their children at the border since 2018, when the ACLU filed the lawsuit to stop the zero tolerance policy in June.

“When the lawsuit first happened, it applied to all the children who are currently in government custody. So that number ended up being 2,400. What was not revealed to us until January 2019 through an internal government report was that they had started piloting the program back as early as August 2017, and there were an additional 1,500 families separated.”

The 500+ missing pairs of parents are actually what’s left of the original 4,000+ that were missing in 2017, and Cathleen says that most of those parents are going to be deported at this point.

With an endless amount of research, fliers and physical searching on the ground in Mexico and Central America, Justice in Motion has been able to locate thousands of parents. However, a reunion does not mean the story is over and that there’s a happy ending.

“These families that we find, they’re deeply traumatized by the experience and the happy videos don’t always tell the full story. In their minds, their parents abandoned them. It’s too hard for a young child to understand all that went down and why they were separated at the border,” Cathleen shares.

So what does this all mean to someone living through the nation’s immigration crisis? What happens when someone from one of those families channels trauma into action? Daihana Estrada is a Mexican American law student. At just 17 years old, she witnessed her parents being deported.

“I still remember when they got deported. It was a really hard transition for our family and ultimately that led me to pursue a career in law.”

In June, Daihana tweeted, “Who would have thought that the 17 year old girl from Utah who witnessed her parents being deported would appear before an immigration judge today for her first case as a law student. I couldn’t change my parents outcome but I will do my best to change someone else’s.”


After the court case, she told herself, “Daihana, take a step back, realize what just happened. You just appeared for your first immigration case as a law student.”

Listen to the full interview and the rest of this past week’s highlights here.

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